A healthy diet is an important part of optimising short term and long term health for Alphas. Eating a balanced diet provides us with the range of nutrients our bodies need and also helps maintain a healthy weight. Being a healthy weight (categorised as a BMI of between 20 and 25) can help reduce the risk of developing other conditions such as heart disease and diabetes but can also help your Alpha1. Being underweight can increase risk of developing infections (including those of the respiratory system). Being overweight can put increased pressure on vital organs (including the liver and lungs) and therefore make them work harder. If you are concerned about your weight, speak to your GP who may refer you to a Dietician.
An important aspect of a balanced diet is dietary fats. There are different types of fats found in the diet and the balance of these is essential for achieving good health. Cakes, biscuits, takeaways, butter, cream, meat fat and poultry skin are examples of foods that are high in saturated fats. These fats increase the levels of cholesterol in the blood which collect on the inside of blood vessels and restrict blood flow to and from major organs. These foods should be kept as occasional treats. There are two main fats that are classed as good fats.
Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, rapeseed oil and margarines made from these oils. They actually help to lower cholesterol levels in the blood and should replace butter, lard and dripping. Omega 3 fats help to protect the body by making the blood less likely to clot and can be found mainly in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, pilchards, fresh tuna) but are also found in smaller quantities in other foods. As part of a healthy diet it is recommended that we should aim to eat one portion of oily fish per week in order to help protect our heart. It is worth remembering that all fats are high in calories, even the good ones. Olive/rapeseed oil and margarines based on these oils need to be used sparingly for those who are wishing to reduce their weight.
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that have many roles within the body. They help tissue function and structure, vision, bone strength, circulation, nerve transmission, metabolism and help prevent oxidative damage. A large proportion of vitamins and minerals can be found in fruit and vegetables. Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables each day ensures that we get sufficient quantities and variety of vitamins and minerals. Examples of a portion are:
- One medium piece of fruit (e.g. apple, orange banana)
- Two smaller fruits (e.g. kiwi fruit, satsuma)
- A handful of berries or dried fruit
- A serving spoon of vegetables
- A bowl of salad
- One glass of fruit juice (150mls)
There is no need for vitamin and mineral supplements if you have a well balanced diet and reach your five a day for fruit and vegetables. High doses of certain vitamins and minerals can sometimes be dangerous.